A new study based on the Annenberg Institute on School Reform’s (AISR) work with the Transatlantic School Innovation Alliance (TISA) adds to the emerging literature supporting the idea that peer networks among educational practitioners, both within and across schools, can improve teaching and learning.In England, there has been a focus over the past decade on developing formal peer networks, especially in urban settings that have traditionally underperformed relative to other areas of the country. U.S. schools in New York City, Boston, and Washington DC participating in the TISA project have experimented with similar structures over the past five years.
AISR has released a report that summarizes the progress of peer networks in TSIA schools in New York City and compares them to better established networks in London.
Key findings about peer networks in New York:
- limited external networks, generally focused on subject matter (e.g., language arts) or inquiry-based projects, and more robust internal networks;
- an emphasis on within-school professional learning communities centered on data inquiry;
- a heavy emphasis on bottom-up, self-directed networks with little top-down direction;
- disruption of existing peer networks and creation of new cross-school networking opportunities;
- less time for cross-school networking than in the English system.
Key findings about peer networks in London:
- a wide range of external networks supported through local authorities and private organizations and often focused on subject networks;
- an expectation that schools would be “outward facing” to other schools and the broader community;
- an attempt to balance top-down network expectations with bottom-up, customized ideas;
- a substantial focus on principal networking;
- scheduling within individual schools that allowed teachers and principals the time to be out of the classroom and observe practice in other schools, as well as participate in networks;
- local authorities varied in their capacity to support schools, and many networks bypassed them;
- the development of academies has had complex and not-well-understood effects on local authorities and other existing networks.
The findings indicate that the United States can profit from England’s conception of schools as outward-facing learning communities. In addition, it appears that the American system could benefit from stronger top-down support and enabling policies. To read the full report, see http://www.annenberginstitute.org/wedo/TSIA.php